International Ethics and Failures: Case Studies

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Contribution to Books

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Publication Title

Engineering Ethics for a Globalized World


Many engineering codes of ethics, such as that of the American Society of Civil Engineers, require that engineers “shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public.” However, structures such as buildings and dams can fail with considerable loss of life. If engineers are held responsible for these failures, penalties may be imposed by criminal or civil courts, by licensing boards, or by professional societies. In this paper five cases are reviewed – the Hyatt Regency Walkway Collapse (1981), United States, the Malpasset Dam (1959), France, the Vaiont Dam Landslide (1963), Italy, the Sampoong Superstore (1995), Republic of Korea, and the Rana Plaza Building (2013), Bangladesh. Following the collapse of the Hyatt Regency Walkways, which killed 114, the engineers were not charged with a crime, but were stripped of licenses by state licensing boards and one was expelled from professional society membership. The failure of the Malpasset dam, which killed 421 people in the subsequent flood, resulted in both criminal and civil court actions. The landslide in the Vaiont Dam reservoir and subsequent flooding resulted in over 2,000 deaths. Eleven engineers and others were criminally charged, three were found guilty, and two served short jail terms. Following the collapse of the Sampoong Superstore which killed almost 500, executives of the firm that owned the store served 7 and 10 ½ year jail sentences. In addition, 12 local building officials were found guilty of taking bribes. Recently, another tragic building collapse has occurred in Bangladesh. These cases contrast different approaches taken to toward public safety in different countries.